The Art of Self-Defense

The current cultural discourse has, of late, become filled with stories of aimless, lonely young men who find direction and a kind of community through toxic and bizarre means. For Casey (Jesse Eisenberg), the weedy accountant shuffling through his beige existence in writer/director Riley Stearns’ The Art of Self-Defense, that feeling leads him to a karate class. When he steps into the dojo, he is intoxicated by the eloquent yet stern Sensei (Alessandro Nivola), who describes martial arts as a pathway to inner and outer strength. Where The Art of Self-Defense goes from this point—and how its note-perfect cast handles its premise—is what gives the movie its strength. At first, Stearns leans hard into the dark comedy, with stilted, mannered dialogue and quirky scenes that come across like a hyper-violent remake of a Hal Hartley film, or maybe Jim Jarmusch's Fight Club. But soon, Sensei’s sinister intentions become clear, and the emotional and psychological impact he has on the people in his orbit—especially Anna (Imogen Poots), the steely young woman who teaches the kids’ class—becomes harder for Casey to swallow. by Erik Henriksen
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Riley Stearns
Jesse Eisenberg, Imogen Poots, Alessandro Nivola

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